Below UPDATED April 11th, 2023Read as much or as little of this as you want
Native Silver and Stone came to be after a number of years of cogitating over how I might generate a little supplemental income if I lived long enough to retire. It needed to be something from which I could derive pleasure, no matter how much time I had to devote to it. I'm not frightened by hard work but I don't want to hate what I'm doing.
My career has been and remains in the technical end of the entertainment business.
I started working in lighting and rigging for rock n roll and special events back in the early 70's. I have lived and traveled quite a few places. For the last twenty-two years I have worked in soft goods, projection, and scenic support in lower Manhattan and then just across the Hudson. I've been most fortunate to like what I do. It's stressful, requires long hours, and a fair amount of travel. For the most part, I have enjoyed it immensely. I've met interesting people and made great friends.
For as long as I can remember I've been inextricably drawn to Native American arts. As a little child I admired original art works and jewelry owned by some beloved elderly relatives who collected in the 30's and 40's. I had no knowledge, at that time, of the specific nature of the works. I just really liked them. Some of these beautiful items passed to my parents and now to me. They are treasured by me on many levels.
In 1981/82, during a brief hiatus from entertainment, I had my first taste of combining my love of things Native and commerce. After having spent a brief time in Santa Fe, I started a little home business in the Los Angeles area selling Native American artwork at Pow Wow's, Gun Shows, the (then) high-end Costa Mesa Swap Meet, and "art parties". Pow Wow's and Gun Shows were booming business' back then, no pun intended. I reluctantly tabled the enterprise when I returned to entertainment as I didn't feel I could devote the time; but I never forgot it. I continued to read from the four shelves of books I own on Native American arts and I continued to follow the market, albeit from the periphery.
Fast forward to 2011 when, after thirty years of blathering on to my family about how special Northern New Mexico and Santa Fe were, they agreed to a group vacation. It was during this trip that the seeds for Native Silver and Stone were fertilized. I went back two months later, in the weeks surrounding Santa Fe Indian Market, to explore my options. Exploration turned into rampant buying.
Since then, I made many trips to New Mexico and Arizona, researching, establishing relationships, and more buying. I went into this with the expectation that it would have a "ramp-up" time and take on a life of it's own and that has proven true. There have been some false starts and dead ends with respect to my original plans. Long story short, given as much inventory as I have and the fact that I'm still working a very demanding full-time job, a good website became critical. Three years in, I opened the online store. I went live in late November of 2014. In December of 2019 I relocated to New Mexico and began working my job remotely from there. Due to COVID's impact on my industry, I was on furlough for almost all of 2020. I am now back at work and, admittedly have not been able to spend the time I would like on this business. As of this writing (April 2023), retirement is about a month and a half off and then I can dive into this full-time.
THE SITE, INVENTORY and BASIC BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY
I'm anything but an expert on websites and social media. I've tried to make the site look and operate professionally but I'm not Amazon. I'm a firm believer in Murphy's Law so, even nine plus years in, I still miss things.
I periodically run across errors that clearly were the result of middle-of-the-night cut and pastes. When I'm looking at it fully rested it is so much clearer than when I'm sleep deprived!
I continue to tweak things as time allows. For better or worse, most everything continues to be learned OJT. I beg your understanding and patience. If you find something is not working properly, I sure would appreciate you letting me know, otherwise I can't fix it.
The inventory you see pictured is owned outright. At time of GO LIVE, approximately 10% of the total inventory was on display. As of April 2023 I'm guessing it remains at 55% to 60% posted.
This is less than it used to be as I have continued acquiring even though I haven't been posting. That's why it's good to ask if you don't see something, it may be lurking in one of my closets and may have been there up to ten years.
I lovingly hand-picked every item. I spent a staggeringly stupid amount of time selecting a variety that I hope will appeal to a very wide range of tastes and income levels. I make a special effort to try to grab things that I recognize as unique. Sometimes something relatively inexpensive can be a real "steal."
The less expensive an item, the less unique it will tend to be and less likely to utilize all "natural" materials. If you have questions, please ask but don't expect something that costs $60 to have natural turquoise, you'll be very lucky to find that at $200 (but I may have some - see Gene and Martha Jackson, Peter Nelson, and Artie Yellowhorse). I do own a lot of less expensive items that were purchased eight to twelve years ago. These items will tend to be made of better materials than the same item fabricated today, but are mostly still priced based upon what I paid for them at that time.
If you see something that is a particular style or from an artist you like and you want something similar or in a different size - ask, I may have it or maybe can get it. I have established wonderful friendships with some lovely people, many of whom now fabricate orders for me on demand and ship to me, in between shows. It may be a slow, tedious process, but do-able.
You will likely never see on my site what is generally referred to as "old pawn". The term has no reliable fixed definition and encompasses pretty much whatever the user wants it to. Old Pawn can include rare old pieces, more recent pre-owned goods, or flat out junk, some of which wasn't even made in the US, let alone by Native Americans. I am not now and likely never will be qualified to properly handle this segment of the market. Occasionally I may help a friend sell a piece where I am crystal clear on provenance. Please don't ask me to appraise your family treasures, pay somebody who is properly certified and has the chops, it's not me.
For a long time, my photography was truly abysmal and is one of the main reasons I didn't go live sooner. When I was finally convinced by enough folks that it was at least "acceptable", I decided to go live. I think it is fair to say that while I've gotten better I still have a lot to learn. I have yet to find the time to learn and understand what all the numbers and buttons on the camera do. Photographing jewelry is an art and skill unto itself.
Most of my photos are taken in extreme close-up and then the site allows you to zoom further. You are going to see little, tiny scratches and nicks that may look like the Grand Canyon in the photo but likely aren't even visible to the naked eye. Look at your favorite earrings or belt buckle and then take a strong magnifying glass to them, it will be a revelation. If I was a better photographer, I could make most of that stuff disappear.
In many cases the piece in the photos are significantly bigger than the item in real life. Some items are pictured adjacent to a coin for perspective. I started this quite a while back and am now doing it consistently but many earlier photos don't have it, please look at the dimensions.
Some really early postings have a photo and little else. These have gotten lost in the mix, if you want more info, e-mail me, I'll happily update the post.
Also important to note many stones have natural inclusions in them of internal "cracking". It doesn't mean there is anything "wrong" with them, it is the way the stone developed and is part of their charm; many collectors try to find these features, it makes a stone interesting. The close-ups allow you to see all the details but, again, the naked eye is not going to see everything visible in these photos.
Some stones look VERY different under different lighting conditions. This is particularly true of items that possess chatoyance, like Pietersite/Pietercite. It is absolutely gorgeous but very difficult to capture in a photo. I try to show it under varying conditions but just know it isn't possible to take "a photo" that looks like the piece.
Opal is another monster to photograph, especially the imitation and synthetic which is 99% of what is used. The color that comes up in the photo can be completely different that what is seen with the naked eye. VERY frustrating to shoot but it explains why I may post many photos of the same thing.
Remember, these works were not punched out by a machine, every piece is going to be at least slightly different and have it's own peculiarities or, if you must, "flaws." It is the nature of the beast, if that feels especially bothersome, handcrafted and handmade might not be the right choice for you.
Pricing & Materials
Any "sales" you may see on my site will be legitimate specials for a finite period, specific item, or perhaps, an inventory reduction.
I have a lot of relatively inexpensive items I bought back in 2011-2013. The intent, at that time, was selling face-to-face at some street fairs and flea markets. That just never came to pass. After going live with my site, it became clear that would not be the direction my business would take. It is my hope, after retirement, to eventually get more of these items posted to reduce my stock but time remains an issue. There will be fewer pictures, less information, and nice low prices. Sale items are not be returnable. The prices, combined with what it takes to post them means I am pushing things through at less than cost so I can't contend with the double handling of returns.
I will not inflate prices so I can then put them "on sale" at a price that places them at generally accepted retail. Some perfectly legitimate businesses find that to be a good model, and while I understand why they do it, it just doesn't work for me.
You may ask yourself why, in perusing the web, you may have found something similar, by what appears to be the same artist, at a noticeably different price. Once again, remember these items are made one or a few at a time. Many, if not most, of the artists survive from order-to-order. Sadly, very few of these folks have the resources to squirrel away materials for future use so they have to pay the supplier's going rate at the time they NEED it.
Materials costs fluctuate significantly. Stones mostly go up but metals take wild swings. For example, let's say the spot price for silver is $21 an ounce (which it was when I first wrote this.) The artist doesn't pay spot, they have to buy the silver from a supplier which means they are paying whatever the supplier is charging. That supplier may still have inventory on hand from when spot was $31 an ounce so the artist is going to pay accordingly. Even if they have inventory from when the price was lower, there is a decent chance they will charge current spot, if it is higher.
Not very very many years ago, artists were paying up to $60 an ounce for silver. There is still finished jewelry on the market that was made at that time and the prices will, for that vendor, justifiably, reflect that. So, when looking at those similar items, they could have been purchased literally years apart and at very different prices.
Another variable is shipping. On some items I may be $5 higher than someone the same piece but offer free shipping when they are charging $20.
(The following three paragraph's on stones were added October 2015 and have been amended slightly since)
Stones of almost every kind have become much more difficult to acquire and the prices have jumped (in some cases, skyrocketed). Things that were readily available in 2013 continue to get harder, if not impossible to find. The Chinese and Japanese have been buying up all the turquoise they can lay their hands on. They have scoured the pawn shops and removed stones from older pieces to be re-set in new jewelry (Native and otherwise).
The Sleeping Beauty mine continues grinding up the turquoise to get to the copper. Turquoise from this mine has become scarcer than hen's teeth, regardless of price. Until fairly recently it was generally accepted that maybe 15% of turquoise on the market was "natural" (ie not stabilized and/or enhanced). I'm reliably told that number is now likely closer to less than 5%. EVERYONE has bemoaned this for the last six plus years. Sugilite, Lapis, Ocean Jasper, Coral and on and on, are all problematical. Turquoise from mines not previously seen pop up as suppliers source new materials.
Fetish artists are resorting to materials in plastic and glass that they wouldn't have touched six to seven years ago. I initially recoiled from buying these "synthetic" materials but now realize, times change and, if the artists feel it is appropriate, who am I to tell them what to use? The art is in the carving and how they use the material, whatever it may be. Honestly, working glass requires special tools and skills so this needs to be taken into account. If you want/need the intrinsic value of turquoise, be prepared to pay accordingly, most artists cannot afford to nor are willing to buy it speculatively.
As regards origins of turquoise, I pass along the info that is given me by the artist or wholesaler. If I don't have a mine or location name, I was not told and will not guess, so nothing is specified. If I suspect someone is blowing smoke about the mine, I just leave it un-named or tell what I was told but mention I'm a little dubious. It doesn't mean the piece isn't good, it could be as simple as the seller was more impressed with their identification skills than I was.
As I have mentioned previously, the less expensive the piece, the more likely lesser quality materials were used. There are only a handful of people who can reliably eyeball turquoise and tell you from where they came and what specific treatment they may have received. I can look at many and recognize it's been treated but other pieces, I just don't know, even when viewed with a 30X magnifying loupe. I don't own an electron microscope and I'm unwilling to destroy a piece of turquoise to see what is inside which are the most reliable methods of confirmation.
A fair amount of the turquoise going through the market, pre-Covid was Chinese. Don't roll your eyes, a lot of it was absolutely gorgeous. Virtually all of it, like MOST of the available US turquoise, is stabilized. If I KNOW (been told) it is Chinese, I say so. Honestly, currently I'm a bit out of touch as to how COVID impacted the imported turquoise market. Upon retirement, I will be diving back into the game a bit deeper and hope to catch up to where the market stands.
So here's the deal. Stones are going to cost more, often for things that aren't the same quality they were several years ago. This has been the trend for years now and I see no evidence of it changing. That being the case, the stones you may look at as inferior to what you saw in 2010 will be the stones you will be admiring compared to those that will cost even more in 2024. That's the way it is. I don't make the rules, I'm just telling you what they are.
Here's a lesson I've learned the hard way. I used to avoid buying some of the bigger turquoise pieces from Artie Yellowhorse feeling I could get them pretty much whenever I wanted. Unfortunately, this is no longer true and I missed the boat on many special items. If you see a particularly good and/or special piece by any artist, on my site or somewhere else, you may want to pony up while it is available or you could be kicking yourself down the line. The time to buy unique is when you see it. I have many regrets about things that I left behind that now I can't get at any price.
If you see something you think is similar down the line for less than you paid, I wouldn't dwell on it too much unless it is thousands of dollars different. Something in the market fluctuated, and/or that seller is trying to generate cash, or, possibly it is a different artist doing similar work. If you like the item you bought and, to you, it was worth what you paid for it at the time you purchased it, be at peace. That's my opinion, I expect there are people who would disagree.
How artist's price their work will involve a number of factors, materials cost being only one of them, Each artist needs to decide what the market will pay for "the art" of the piece and/or for the customer's bragging rights to say they own something from that artist. Some artists have "a name" and some people will pay more for that. Others toil in total anonymity churning out piece work for shops. Also, there are many cases of multiple artists putting out very similar work. In some cases the work is identified with a specific artist and pieces by them may demand a higher price than very similar work by someone else.
The other, truly "loose cannon" aspect of the pricing is what the artist's financial situation is at the time they are selling the piece(s). If they have a bill coming due for car repair, medical bills, hay for horses, food for chickens, or to have water delivered to their home, there's at least a chance it is going to cost more. The flip side of that is if the artist is really desperate they may charge less than the real value of the work in order to get cash. Sad but true.
After the artist or trader sells it to people like me, we have to decide how much we need to add for it be a viable business. For those who are on the outside looking in, a web based business such as this may look like an "easy" way to get a business going.
There is much more to it than meets the eye. The photographing, manipulating the photos to work on the site, gathering and documenting all the specifics of a piece, and posting are all incredibly time consuming. No, I don't have the expense of a brick and mortar store but, if I did, I wouldn't have to do ANY of the things I previously mentioned (unless I also had a current website). Please take that into account when looking at web businesses, they are not without expense.
I try to charge fair market prices. If you see something similar at a higher price in a reputable brick and mortar store remember what it costs them to keep their doors open and offer you the opportunity to see the goods in person. I don't envy them. There are fewer and fewer really qualified people willing to do this anymore. Despite our being competitors on some level, I lament the loss every time one closes their doors (R.I.P. Christofs, Packards, River Trading Post SF, Kokopelli - to name but a few). These are people from whom I have learned and respect. If the price difference is not that much, I think it is only fair to buy from the person whose time you took up, were they contacted by email, phone, or in person. I feel the same way about spending a bunch of time at Best Buy or a local appliance store and then buying from Amazon for $10 less, If you want/need that in-person help, in my opinion, you should be willing to pay for it.
One final thing about pricing. There are a large amount and I do mean a LARGE amount of imitation pieces and outright counterfeit rip-offs on the market. Some may have been fabricated for a store, by Native Americans, using another artist's very unique, identifiable designs. Then there are the goods made in places like the Philippines, India, or China. There is a huge amount of work totally misrepresented on Amazon, Pinterest, Etsy,etc. On Etsy people are calling current work "vintage" in order to justify selling on the site. I suspect some of it is ill-informed but some likely intentional and clearly neither Amazon nor Etsy makes much effort to regulate it. There are definitely some good sellers but you have to wade through rivers of the questionable to get there. Buyer beware. This is an incredibly sore point with anyone who really cares about the integrity of the work and about the artists. FYI, it is a Federal offense to intentionally misrepresent Native work.
In Conclusion (Finally...)
While I would never lay claim to being an expert, I think it would be fair to say I'm reasonably well-informed. I do my level best to not represent I know more than I do. If I don't know an answer to something but feel I can get an accurate one, I'll tell you.
I sometimes inadvertently post misinformation, when found, I change it. I'm learning all the time too. I do a lot of this web work at crazy hours when I'm so tired I can barely see. Mistakes will be made and I reserve the right to correct them be it info and/or pricing. If you question the accuracy of something, please ask, if I've posted something incorrectly, I want to fix it.
Until my retirement from my job (mid 2023), this business definitely qualifies as a part-time endeavor. Daily, I check for activity and address it accordingly. If I know I am going to be unable to respond or ship, I will post a notice, minimally, on the home, new arrivals, and shipping pages stating when I will be shipping.
Thankfully, traffic has grown over the last eight years but is usually still manageable so my response time is pretty good despite my job. After retirement, it will improve.
If you have any suggestions or comments, and certainly if you find anything unsatisfactory, please let me know immediately so I have an opportunity to correct it. Please check the Contacts, FAQ's, and Shipping & Returns for more details, I will be adding to and/or changing them periodically.
For reasons I have not been able to discern, there are a LOT of people who mistake me for an individual artist whose work may be posted on my site. If I receive an email asking me about something I "made" or "sold", you will receive a reply telling you I am not who you think I am. I'm not trying to be unfriendly but, I'm NOT a Native American jewelry artist and, I don't get involved in repairs involving items I did not sell.
Absolutely the best way to reach me is E-MAIL or TEXT, I usually respond to this in hours, if not minutes. Absolutely the worst way to reach me is phone, due to my job it can take a long time for me to call back. If I am not responding to your e-mail, it's likely my antivirus quarantined it as suspicious and I will not take the chance to reply. If you tried to reach me multiple times, without a response, then, please call me.
As mentioned previously, in late December 2019, I moved to New Mexico. Nothing has changed much except the time zone, my proximity to the artists (much better now that COVID is receding), and the address from which I will ship.
Wow. Congratulations. You made it to the end. I'm impressed. You should get a prize...just kidding, remember way back at the beginning I told you didn't have to read any of it.
That's my story. Probably TMI, but you came to this page so you must have wanted to know, right?
I look forward to sharing with you my passion for this art. Thanks for stopping by.